The Downward Spiral

The Downward Spiral
The Downward Spiral
Studio album by Nine Inch Nails
Released March 8, 1994
Recorded 1993-1994
Le Pig
(Beverly Hills, California)
Record Plant Studios, A&M Studios
(Los Angeles, California)
Genre Industrial rock, industrial metal, alternative rock
Length 65:02
Label Nothing/Interscope – HALO 8
Producer Trent Reznor, Flood
Nine Inch Nails chronology
Pretty Hate Machine
The Downward Spiral
The Fragile
Singles from The Downward Spiral
  1. "March of the Pigs"
    Released: February 25, 1994
  2. "Closer"
    Released: May 30, 1994

The Downward Spiral is the second studio album by American industrial rock act Nine Inch Nails, released March 8, 1994, on Interscope Records. It is a concept album detailing the destruction of a man, from the beginning of his "downward spiral" to his climactic attempt at suicide. The Downward Spiral features elements of industrial rock, techno, and heavy metal music, in contrast to the dance-influenced Pretty Hate Machine (1989).[1]

Co-produced by Trent Reznor and Flood, the album's concept was written after the Pretty Hate Machine Tour Series concluded in 1991. Reznor and Flood moved to 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, California the following year, where The Downward Spiral was recorded. It was influenced by various records like David Bowie's Low (1977) and Pink Floyd's The Wall (1979). Production wrapped up in February 1994 when it was mastered by Alan Moulder.

Entering the Billboard 200 at number two, the album has sold over five million copies worldwide, while it was certified quadruple platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) for shipments of four million copies in the United States (making it the act's highest selling release there). The Downward Spiral was a major commercial success that established Nine Inch Nails as a reputable force in the 1990s music scene, since "Hurt" and "Closer" cracked the Top 10, the latter with a provocative music video. It has been widely regarded by music critics as the band's best work.[2][3][4] A companion remix album, Further Down the Spiral, was released in 1995.



Background, writing and relocation to Los Angeles

Early ideas for The Downward Spiral were conceived after the Lollapalooza 1991 festival concerts ended in September of that year.[5] Though production on 1992's Broken extended play had begun in late 1991, the writing process for the act's second album did not start until 1992.[5] He created several poems after his stay at there, and penned the themes he will explore on the album in his journals.[6][7]

Initially, Reznor was to record the album in New Orleans, but due to financial duties, he changed his mind.[8] He often checked out 15 houses in a day, settling to stay at a building that was constructed at a residential area in Los Angeles.[9] For $11,000 per month, he rented the house located at 10050 Cielo Drive in Beverly Hills, California, where actress Sharon Tate was murdered by members of the Manson Family in 1969, on July 4, 1992.[10][11] Reznor purchased several musical instruments and production equipment, and built a studio space in the house which he named "Le Pig", after the message that was scrawled on the front door with Tate's blood by her murderers.[7]

Despite the notoriety attached to the house, he chose to record there, since he "looked at a lot of places, and this just happened to be the one" he found most interesting.[8][9] Along with his former manager, John Malm, Jr., Reznor stayed in there for 18 months.[12]


10050 Cielo Drive was Reznor's choice for the location to record The Downward Spiral. Pictured here is the studio surrounding the house, Le Pig.

The Downward Spiral was recorded at Le Pig in 1993. The Broken extended play was also partially recorded there, and a version of the "Gave Up" music video was filmed inside the studio.[13]

Flood was previously involved in two of the ten tracks off Pretty Hate Machine (1989) ("Head Like a Hole" and "Terrible Lie"), and three songs from the adforementioned Broken (1992) ("Wish", "Last", "Gave Up"). He was hired as co-producer of several tracks on The Downward Spiral.[14] Reznor set out plans to make the album a departure from the Broken EP (emphasizing "mood, texture, restraint and subtlety") but had no knowledge to figure out what musical direction should he want the album to sound like.[14]

He brought in a number of guest performers to record, including former Jane's Addiction and Porno for Pyros drummer Stephen Perkins on "I Do Not Want This" and progressive rock guitarist Adrian Belew on "Mr. Self Destruct" and "The Becoming."[14] Belew said of Reznor: "Trent [Reznor] has an astounding command of technology, old and new; he's such an intriguing person to work with, but that may have actually helped in some way. The music just lent itself to so many ideas that are in my realm."[15] He went on to collaborate on two more Nine Inch Nails records, follow-up The Fragile (1999) and the instrumental, independently released Ghosts I–IV (2008).[citation needed] Perkins played a number of drum parts that were recorded live in the studio; these tracks were subsequently rendered into looped samples which were manipulated electronically using Pro Tools in a Macintosh computer. Reznor took a similar approach to recording guitar parts: he would tape 20 to 25-minute long sessions of himself playing a random guitar plugged to a Zoom 9030 pedal on a hard disc recorder with a Studio Vision sequencer.[16]

Reznor stated that "99 percent of the stuff we do–even vocals–is recorded into the computer first. We get an arrangement together and then dump it to tape."[17] Among the equipment he used for the production are Digidesign's TurboSynth, a Marshall rack head, the Prophet VS keyboard, and various Jackson and Gibson guitars.[15]

Nevertheless, the production was plagued with several electrical problems, and a number of songs had to be reworked. Overuse of equipment and compatibility issues have been cited as contributing factors to these problems.[18]


One of Reznor's last visits to the house occurred in December 1993. On that day, he was confronted by Patti Tate, who questioned, "Are you exploiting my sister's death by living in her house?". Reznor responded, "No, it's just sort of my own interest in American folklore. I'm in this place where a weird part of history occurred."[19] He later made a statement about one of his final days at working in the Tate house during a 1997 interview with Rolling Stone:

While I was working on [The] Downward Spiral, I was living in the house where Sharon Tate was killed. Then one day I met her sister [Pattie Tate]. It was a random thing, just a brief encounter. And she said: 'Are you exploiting my sister's death by living in her house?' For the first time, the whole thing kind of slapped me in the face. I said, 'No, it's just sort of my own interest in American folklore. I'm in this place where a weird part of history occurred.' I guess it never really struck me before, but it did then. She lost her sister from a senseless, ignorant situation that I don't want to support. When she was talking to me, I realized for the first time, 'What if it was my sister?' I thought, 'Fuck Charlie Manson.' I went home and cried that night. It made me see there's another side to things, you know?[20]

After the album's recording, Reznor moved out and the house was demolished shortly thereafter.[9] The Downward Spiral entered its mixing and mastering processes. This was done at Record Plant Studios, the building where heavy metal band Black Sabbath recorded two of their albums (Black Sabbath Vol. 4 (1972) and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973)), and A&M Studios. Both studios are located in Los Angeles, California. Alan Moulder, who later co-produced The Fragile (1999) and With Teeth (2005), was involved with mixing the album.[21]

Unreleased songs

One of the songs written for the album, "Just Do It", made Flood speak to Reznor that he was dismissive of the final result. Reznor said in 1995: "There was another song that I didn't put on there called 'Just Do It.' It was a very dangerously self-destructive, silly little snippet. You know, 'If you're going to kill yourself, just do it, nobody cares at all.' But [The Downward Spiral co-producer] Flood freaked out and said, 'No, you've gone too far. I don't want to be involved in that'." Afterwards, Reznor completed the last song written for the album, "Big Man with a Gun", in late 1993.[22]


Numerous layers of metaphors are present throughout the album, which leaves it open to wide interpretation. The album relays many concepts of Nihilism, such as the chorus of "Heresy," which runs: "Your god is dead/And no one cares/If there is a hell/I'll see you there." As a whole, The Downward Spiral is defined by Nietzschean concepts and a prominent theme of existentialism. It is a concept album in which the overarching plot follows the protagonist's descent into his own inner solipsistic world, through a metaphorical "Downward Spiral", dealing with religion, dehumanization, violence, disease, society, drugs, sex, and finally suicide. This character can be understood as a representation of Reznor himself, since he experienced several social and personal issues through the course of Nine Inch Nails' first decade until his rehabilitation in 2001.[23]

The visibility of controversy increased with religious protests during the Self-Destruct tour, but he considered himself "pretty normal" before the beginning of the tour. When developing The Downward Spiral, Reznor can "remember where I was in my head, what I was thinking, and I can remember writing that record, and the mindset. This record that was about an extension of me, became the truth fulfilling itself."[23] Reznor has talked about the album concept numerous times:

Thematically I wanted to explore the idea of somebody who systematically throws or uncovers every layer of what he's surrounded with, comfort-wise, from personal relationships to religion to questioning the whole situation. Someone dissecting his own ability to relate to other people or to have anything to believe in...With The Downward Spiral I tried to make a record that had full range, rather than a real guitar-based record or a real synth-based record. I tried to make it something that opened the palate for NIN, so we don't get pigeon-holed. It was a conscious effort to focus more on texture and space, rather than bludgeoning you over the head for an hour with a guitar.[24]

Reznor described the idea created for the album as consisting of "someone who sheds everything around them to a potential nothingness, but through career, religion, relationship, belief and so on." He added, "It's less muscle-flexing, though when I started it I didn't know what I wanted it to sound like. I knew I didn't want to be a full metal album, so I tried to address the issue of restraint."[10][25]

Music and lyrics

The Downward Spiral features elements of industrial rock, techno, and heavy metal music, a stark contrast to the primitive electronic dance music style shown throughout Pretty Hate Machine in 1989. Reznor regularly uses noise and distortion in his song arrangements, and incorporates dissonance with chromatic melody and/or harmony, most notably on the album's closing track "Hurt". The album features a wide range of textures and moods to illustrate the mental progress of a central character.[26] Reznor's singing follows a similar pattern from beginning to end, frequently moving from whispers to screams.[citation needed]

Reznor has discussed his musical inspiration behind the album:

I was really into electronic music at the time. David Bowie's Low was probably the single greatest influence on The Downward Spiral for me. I got into Bowie in the Scary Monsters era, then I picked up Low and instantly fell for it. I related to it on a song-writing level, a mood level, and on a song-structure level [...] I like working within the framework of accessibility, and songs of course, but I also like things that are more experimental and instrumental, maybe."[27]


Artwork and sketches for The Downward Spiral, "Closer" and "March of the Pigs" by Russell Mills were displayed at the Glasgow School of Art. Mills explained the ideas and materials that made up the painting (titled "Wound") that was used for the cover:

I had been thinking about making works that dealt with layers, physically, materially and conceptually. I wanted to produce works that were about both exposure and revealing and at the same dealt with closure and covering. Given the nature of the lyrics and the power of the music I was working with, I felt justified in attempting to make works that alluded to the apparently contradictory imagery of pain and healing. I wanted to make beautiful surfaces that partially revealed the visceral rawness of open wounds beneath. The mixed media work 'Wound' was the first piece I tackled in this vein (no pun intended) and it became the cover of the album. It is made of plaster, acrylics, oils, rusted metals, insects, moths, blood (mine), wax, varnishes, and surgical bandaging on a wooden panel.[28]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4/5 stars[29]
Blender 4/5 stars[30]
Chicago Tribune 3/4 stars[31]
Entertainment Weekly (B+)[32]
Los Angeles Times 4/4 stars[33]
Pitchfork Media (8.3/10)[34]
PopMatters (9/10)[35]
Rolling Stone 4/5 stars [36]
Sputnikmusic 5/5 stars[37]
USA Today 3/4 stars[38]

The Downward Spiral was released in March 1994. The album debuted the following week at number two on the US Billboard 200 chart.[39] To date, the album has sold over five million copies worldwide; on 28 October 1998 the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) certified the album quadruple platinum, denoting shipments of four million in the United States, making it Nine Inch Nails' highest-selling work there.[40][41] The Downward Spiral was well-received by critics. Jon Pareles of The New York Times wrote, "every instrument, acoustic or synthetic, seems tuned to create the maximum aural abrasion." Pareles asserted that unlike other electro-industrial groups like Ministry and Nitzer Ebb, "Reznor writes full-fledged tunes; he knows his way around melodic hooks, not just riffs. And while purists accuse him of selling out their insular genres, he actually trumps them; the music is no less transgressive, and possibly more so, because it sticks in the ear."[42] Robert Christgau gave the album an honorable mention ((2 star Honorable Mention)(2 star Honorable Mention)) rating, and said that, musically, the album was comparable to "Heironymus Bosch as postindustrial atheist", but lyrically, more closely resembled "Transformers as kiddie porn."[43] Rolling Stone awarded the album four out of five stars; reviewer Jonathan Gold praised the album as "music that pins playback levels far into the red", and concluded, "The Downward Spiral is music the blade runner might throw down to: low-tech futurism that rocks."[36] Entertainment Weekly gave the album a B+; reviewer Tom Sinclair wrote, "Reznor's pet topics (sex, power, S&M, hatred, transcendence) are all here, wrapped in hooks that hit your psyche with the force of a blowtorch."[44] In its 2004 edition, The New Rolling Stone Album Guide gave the album five out of five stars and called it "a powerful statement, and one of the landmark albums of the Nineties."[2]


The album was placed 25th on Spin's 100 Greatest Albums, 1985-2005 list; Spin also placed it 11th on their Top 90 Albums of the 90's; in 2010 the magazine placed the album 10th on their 125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years list.[45] JustPressPlay placed the album 10th on their Fifty Years of Great Music: The Top 100 Albums of the 1990s list.[46] Blender named it the 80th Greatest American Album. It was ranked #488 in the book The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time by Martin Popoff. In 2001 Q named The Downward Spiral as one of the 50 Heaviest Albums of All Time;[47] in 2010 the album was ranked #102 on their 250 Best Albums of Q's Lifetime (1986-2011) list.[citation needed] In 2003, the album was ranked #200 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[48] The Downward Spiral was featured in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

On August 23, 2009 at Webster Hall, Nine Inch Nails played the album in its entirety for the first time ever.[49][50]


Its emphasis on transgressive themes has made The Downward Spiral's lyrics vulnerable to attack from American social conservatives. Sen. Bob Dole, then head of the Republican Party, sharply criticized Time Warner after a meeting between Michael J. Fuchs (head of the Warner Music Group), William Bennett, and C. Delores Tucker, at which Tucker and Bennett demanded that Fuchs recite lyrics from "Big Man with a Gun" because the politician thought the lyrics were an attack on the United States Government.[51] Reznor claimed that the lyrics had nothing to do with politics:

The record was nearing completion. I had written those lyrics pretty quickly and I didn't know if I was going to use them or not. To me, Downward Spiral builds to a certain degree of madness, then it changes. That would be the last stage of delirium. So the original point of 'Big Man with a Gun' was madness. But it was also making fun of the whole misogynistic gangsta-rap bullshit. [...] I listen to a lot of it, and I enjoy it. But I could do without the degree of misogyny and hatred of women and abuse. Then, my song got misinterpreted as exactly that. It was probably a lack of being able to write. I've been taken out of context, and it's ridiculous.[52]

Robert Bork also repeatedly referenced "Big Man with a Gun" in his book Slouching Toward Gomorrah as evidence of a cultural decline. The book incorrectly states that it is a rap song.[53]

Before the Columbine High School massacre of April 20, 1999, two deceased Columbine High School student mass murderers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold referenced lyrics from Nine Inch Nails multiple times in their journals, with the latter specifically naming The Downward Spiral as a symbol of his depression.[54][55][56] On May 4, 1999, a hearing on the marketing and distribution practices of violent content to minors by the television, music, film, and video game industries was conducted before the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.[57] The committee heard testimony from cultural observers, professors, and mental-health professionals that included conservative William Bennett and the Archbishop of Denver, Reverend Charles J. Chaput.[57] Participants criticized the album, Nine Inch Nails' label-mate Marilyn Manson, and the 1999 film The Matrix for their alleged contribution to the environment that made tragedies like Columbine possible.[57] The committee requested that the Federal Trade Commission and the United States Department of Justice investigate the entertainment industry's marketing practices to minors.[57][58]

In 2009, Apple rejected the Nine Inch Nails application for the iPhone due to objectionable content in The Downward Spiral.[59]

Track listing

All songs written and composed by Trent Reznor. 

No. Title Length
1. "Mr. Self Destruct"   4:30
2. "Piggy"   4:24
3. "Heresy"   3:54
4. "March of the Pigs"   2:58
5. "Closer"   6:13
6. "Ruiner"   4:58
7. "The Becoming"   5:31
8. "I Do Not Want This"   5:41
9. "Big Man with a Gun"   1:36
10. "A Warm Place"   3:22
11. "Eraser"   4:54
12. "Reptile"   6:51
13. "The Downward Spiral"   3:57
14. "Hurt"   6:13
Total length:


  • Japanese pressings contain a bonus track, the Joy Division cover "Dead Souls", originally released on The Crow original soundtrack.[60][61]
  • The opening sounds of "Mr. Self Destruct" are a sample from the film THX 1138 in which a man is being beaten by a prison guard.[62]
  • The frantic drumming on the end of "Piggy" is courtesy of Reznor himself. This is currently his first and only attempt at live drumming on a record, and one of the few "live" drum performances on the album. Reznor had stated that the recording was from him testing the microphone setup in studio, but he liked the sound too much not to include it.[63]
  • The sample at the beginning of "Big Man with a Gun" comes from a studio-altered recording of a porn star having an orgasm. According to the album booklet, this "sample" is titled "Steakhouse" and is credited to Tommy Lee.
  • The break in "Reptile" contains an audio sample (at about 5:06) of a woman falling down a hill from the 1974 film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
  • In 2007 Ladytron used the Downward Spiral motif in their remix of "The Beginning of the End" on Year Zero Remixed.
  • The first Australian pressing has track time errors. Affected tracks do not play at their beginnings when selected individually ("Big Man with a Gun" has the beginning of "A Warm Place" tacked on, likewise all the songs up to "Hurt" start 41 seconds earlier than they should. "Hurt" itself has 44 seconds of silence on the end as a result), however the disc plays and flows correctly as a whole. [64]
Deluxe Edition (Halo 8 DE)

Disc one of the album's deluxe edition re-release is identical to the original version, although 1 dB louder mix overall, track anomalies are fixed (sounds from previous tracks creeping up on start of tracks), and it includes a stereo and multi-channel SACD layer. The second bonus disc is a collection of remixes and b-sides and also includes a stereo SACD layer in addition to the Redbook CD layer. The last three tracks on the bonus disc are previously unreleased demo recordings from the original album.[65]

Bonus disc
No. Title Length
1. "Burn" (from Natural Born Killers) 5:00
2. "Closer (Precursor)" (from "Closer to God") 7:16
3. "Piggy (Nothing Can Stop Me Now)" (from Further Down the Spiral) 4:03
4. "A Violet Fluid" (from "March of the Pigs") 1:04
5. "Dead Souls" (from The Crow) 4:53
6. "Hurt (Quiet)" (from Further Down the Spiral, US version) 5:08
7. "Closer to God" (from "Closer to God") 5:06
8. "All the Pigs, All Lined Up" (from "March of the Pigs") 7:26
9. "Memorabilia" (from "Closer to God") 7:22
10. "The Downward Spiral (The Bottom)" (from Further Down the Spiral) 7:32
11. "Ruiner (Demo)"   4:51
12. "Liar (Reptile Demo)"   6:57
13. "Heresy (Demo)"   4:00
Total length:
DualDisc (Halo 8 DVD-A)

The DualDisc edition of The Downward Spiral contains the same CD content on Side A as the Deluxe Edition, with a DVD-Audio layer on Side B. When played on DVD-Video players a Dolby Digital 5.1 multi-channel or Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo mix of The Downward Spiral can be selected, along with videos of "March of the Pigs", "Hurt" and an uncensored video of "Closer". There is also an interactive discography and an image gallery. When played on a DVD-Audio player a high resolution 24-bit/48 kHz Advanced Resolution Surround and stereo versions of The Downward Spiral can be played, allowing the user a similar high fidelity experience as the SACD layer of the Deluxe Edition. The DualDisc release does not contain the additional b-sides and demo tracks.[66]


  • Bill Kennedy – mixing
  • Alan Moulder – mixing
  • Tom Baker – mastering
  • Bob Ludwig – high-resolution mastering (reissue)
  • James Brown – 5.1 mix (reissue)
  • Neal Ferrazzani – assistance (reissue)
  • Russell Mills – paintings
  • David Buckland – photography
  • Gary Talpas – package
  • Rob Sheridan – package, additional photography (reissue)

Charts and certifications

Album charts

Charts (1994) Peak
Australia (ARIA)[67] 12
Canada (CANOE)[68] 13
New Zealand (RIANZ)[67] 23
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[67] 33
United Kingdom (OCC)[69] 9
United States (Billboard 200)[70] 2


Region Provider Certification Shipment Actual sales
Canada CRIA 3× Platinum[71] 300,000+
United Kingdom BPI Silver[72] 60,000+
United States RIAA 4× Platinum[40] 4,000,000+


Single Chart (1994) Peak position
"March of the Pigs" Australia (ARIA)[73] 98
Canada (CANOE)[74][75] 20
United Kingdom (OCC)[69] 45
US (US)[76] 59
"Closer" Australia (ARIA)[77] 3
Canada (CANOE)[74][75] 5
Denmark (DanishCharts)[78] 12
United Kingdom (OCC)[69] 25
US (Billboard Hot 100)[76] 41
US (Billboard Alternative Songs)[79] 11
"Piggy" (promotional) US (Billboard Alternative Songs)[79] 20
Single Chart (1995) Peak position
"Hurt" (promotional) Canada (RPM Alternative Chart)[80] 8
US (Billboard Hot 100)[76] 54[A]
US (Billboard Alternative Songs)[79] 8


  • A. ^ "Hurt" peaked on the US Radio Songs chart.


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